Conference season is upon us. Assuming you thoroughly researched your hit list of conferences that you (or your company) are investing in this year, it’s time to boss up and make them a fiscally responsible write-off (experience) that can help you catapult your career and your life. Facts are: you are lucky, you get to spend time out of your office expanding your mind and engaging with other professionals in your industry. Let’s talk about how you can reap the benefits, like a boss.
1. Get social with it. By now, the majority of the large-scale conferences have Facebook groups, Twitter or their own app that you have access to once you pay for your ticket. Check out the vibe of the attendees to see what your networking game should be like. Research hashtags and post something to your network about attending, you may discover you have friends heading there too.
2. Pour a glass of wine and design your optimal sessions. When you get to the conference, you will be looking for the check-in, finding out if your friends are there and scoping out the VIP lounge, there is no time for deciding what to learn and engage in. You run the risk of getting sucked into a time suck talk. We don’t have time for that. There is nothing worse then wasting an hour on a subject or a speaker that will not excite and inspire you in some aspect of your life. It’s a waste of time and easily avoidable by simply spending an hour planning. Choose an A list of speakers and sessions and a B list in case a speaker or session is cancelled. Which leads to the next way to work it at a conference;
3. Google the speakers in advance and follow them on social so you can make sure you want to spend your time with them. Your time is important and can easily be wasted if you are not looking for the signs. Session headlines can be deceiving and sometimes people use prior job titles and/or company names that may appeal to the audience but have zero correlation to the topic or the main message that is being advertised. Most times the great speakers who are getting paid to be there are in the larger rooms with the bigger stages. Seems obvious, but I cannot tell you how many times I fell for a sexy headline vs. actually looking the speaker up to see what they are all about. Some speakers are conference chasers and travel around giving the same talk to all industries. You want a speaker who is connected to your industry and who has taken the time to customize their talk or workshop for you at this conference.
4. Network with intention. The people sitting next to you in the sessions you select are a good start to breaking ice and meeting new people. Spend enough time with the right people to make solid connections. Go as far as to follow them on social on the spot, it shows you are interested in connecting later. Quality is always better than quantity. Bring less cards then you normally do and be discerning about you give them to, just make sure your professional brand on LinkedIn is up-to-date and eye-catching. Max out the conference features, like photo booths, vendor raffles and food and drink areas to align yourself with more organic networking opportunities. Arrive early or stay later for the coffee or happy hour, look for the speakers you have seen, they are excited to talk you.
5. Pass on the pre-conference workshop. It’s debatable if the extra $100-$500 for an additional workshop pays off. Most times the same content is being discussed in a few other sessions at the conference.
6. Turn your phone off. Come on people. You just spent hundreds of dollars on a conference. Check your email when you run to the restroom. Unless for some antiquated reason, the conference is not providing you with the slides, you may want to leave it out to snap some photos of slides that you want to reference later. I’ve sat in many talks recently where the whole room, and I mean the whole room, was looking down on their phones. I cannot stress how insanely rude this is. Just think of yourself on stage giving a talk and the audience is hypnotized by their hand-held computers.
7. Circle back, check your stack, friend, follow, like etc. – After the conference, check those cocktail napkins and business cards, and if you haven’t already, connect with them on LinkedIn. Send a message remembering something fun and engaging that you spoke about. You never know when you may want or need to reach out them again. Definitely engage by liking their content and commenting. You meet people for a reason, right? At conferences, these are your people, your “con” folks who want to nerd out with you about industry trends, careers tracks and client strategies, take advantage of that.
Build and conquer your next conference, enjoy setting up your “out of office” email and peace out from behind your computer with these tips and be sure to share your favorite ways to max out the benefits of conferences, I am sure I missed quite a few. The more we share, the more we know.
photo courtesy of Unsplash by Brooke Lark